Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is famous for its population of several hundred critically endangered mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei). British oil company SOCO International continues with preliminary exploration, including seismic tests, in the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Virunga is home to 706 bird and over 218 mammal species - also including chimpanzees, hippos, lions, and forest elephants – and provides critical ecosystem services such as freshwater, and substantial revenues to local communities from gorilla tourism and fishing. Virunga is situated in highly unique yet vulnerable ecosystems, which are the source of the Congo and the Nile Rivers, and home to Lake Edward, which stretches over 2,300 km2 and supports the livelihoods of 50,000 people. The region is marked by ethnic tensions and armed militia groups, which will be exacerbated by oil exploration, with yet another conflict resource. The UNESCO has issued a sharply worded note of protest to the Congolese government, declaring the oil drilling to be in violation of international law.
In late 2011, the UK-based oil company SOCO was granted exploitation rights for oil blocks in the eastern part of the Congo. Up until then, an exploitation moratorium had been in place for the country’s sensitive rainforest regions. Although 85 per cent of the park has been allocated as oil concessions, SOCO is the only company moving forward with exploration. Local communities who live in and outside Virunga National Park, all within SOCO’s Block V, are against any oil development (exploration and exploitation) in Virunga National Park. The WWF filed an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) complaint against the company in late 2013, which was accepted by the UK’s National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD. In the complaint, WWF documented SOCO’s intimidation, threats and unlawful detention of local activists, as well as withholding critical information about environmental and social risks from those likely to be impacted by the company’s activities. The OECD has ruled that “material and substantiated issues meriting further examination.” This alert targets the London Stock Exchange, where SOCO shares are traded, asking that SOCO be delisted until it stops all exploration and plans for drilling for oil in Virunga National Park.
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Gorillas and intact ancient rainforests more precious than oil
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